A city with two faces
31/01/2009 - 04/02/2009
The sleeper train was quite nice and had plenty of room in it. I go a compartment to myself so I got to sprawl all my belongings everywhere. After about an hour on the train I felt my bladder start to tighten, so I went out to find the toilet. I was told it was at the opposite end of the train, past the standard seats. I had heard allot about this train and that there was normally groups of opportunists that would lift anything if it wasn't nailed down. I have to say after walking half way down the carriage I felt like that was highly plausible. I had walked down the carriage and looked back over my shoulder and there was already someone heading to the sleeping quarters until his friend shouted to him. This of course could be my paranoia but I decided not to take any risks, so headed back to my compartment and use the basin as a make shift latrine . After that I took half an hour making my little area gypsy proof. I was woken at half three in the morning for customs and immigration. The Bulgarian side was done all on the train, however the on the Turkish side we had to get off the train to first get our visa then head to a separate office to get it stamped, I think the cost was 15 Euro. I also noticed the standard seat section of the train had now disappeared.
The train guard woke everyone at 0630 saying Istanbul, there were buildings outside, however it wasn’t until 0730 that we arrived at the station. At the station I ran into two American guys who were heading in the same direction, so I tagged along. I was only out of the train station for a matter of minutes before I got scammed- hook, line and sinker. We were walking a being a boot polisher and he dropped his shoe buffer, being the kind sole that I am, I picked it up and returned it to him. As I walked away he started going on about how he has to polish my shoes now as it was a kind act and his family are honourable and that it would be a great disrespect if he didn't do it. First of all he made a crap job of it, but then what really made me laugh (in his face) was he wanted 10 Euro for it. I did think about walking to the tourist police but I thought not. After laughing at be generally awkward he settled for 1 Euro in change. It was to taint my view of Turkish people for the rest of my time there, I also spoke to a more experienced travel than myself, and he fell for too, I didn't feel so bad then.
After a bit of a trek we found the accommodation where they were staying and by good luck the hostel I wanted to stay was 5 doors away. I was still tired from the journey, I know it’s an over night sleeper but you don't really sleep on them especially when your worried about gypsy’s. I went and caught a couple of hours sleep. When I woke I ventured out into town, I had been walking for about 5 mins then I was stopped again in the street by someone. He asked where I was from and where I studied, I told him I studied in Aberdeen. He proceeded to go on about his brother’s shop which is next Woolman Hill (a campus of RGU). He was trying flog some leather jackets, probably dodgy quality by what happened next. After I told him I wasn't interested he started saying just come and have a look etc I told I was travelling after about 5mins of trying to get rid of him he finally got the idea and started saying stuff in Turkish to me before finally waving me off. My impression of Turkish people was well and truly set now, even it was early times.
Back at the hostel got talking to a couple of the guys who were staying there and the suggestion was to go to a Hamam. We headed up to the Hamam, where David gave us some useful information about Istanbul, and the fact we were staying in the tourist trap, and that if we walked 5mins down the road we could get everything a lot cheaper. We went into the Hamam, 3 of us just stood there looking at each other while David had to tell us what to do, which was sit there and bathe yourself, after doing that for a while we relaxed on the heated marble table for 40mins before going to the reception area and drinking tea. After that we headed into Beyoglu for a tour of the town and a beer. Alex and David started discussing Swiss politics, which Manuel and myself, just tried to make other conversation.
David left the next day quite early, but he had the urge to wake everyone in the dorm up to give them gifts, or stuff he couldn't fit in his bag. It was nice of him but entirely unnecessary. I went round the town again as I was going to buy my ticket to Tehran, when I ran into another salesman, when I told him I wasn't interested he asked if he could help, the look on my face must have been pretty bad as he went onto say that if he helped me then in future I would remember and maybe be pass on his name. So he helped me try and find a decent price for the bus to Tehran but they were quite expensive, he even tried to haggle for me. In the end it was the train opted for. As I promised the place was Carpetiem Leather and ceramic store and the man's name was Aladdin, promised kept.
The other thing that struck me about Istanbul was the act it had so much Tourist police, although it sounds like a good idea I was continuingly thinking I was being ripped off, and most likely I was. I followed the tram lines as far as I could before I got hungry. I went into a small cafe where no one spoke English, however the word kebab is pretty universal. They tried to speak to me and ask me where I was from but they just looked with blank expressions, that is, until I mentioned Graeme Souness. They knew that name ok, as they were Fernbache fans and still hadn't forgot about his escapades during the final of 1996.
In the afternoon I walked along to Beyoglu and wondered about the shops, it was just like any high street in Britain. That night I just stayed in the hostel and spoke to Guido, who had travelled through Iran and Pakistan. He told me not to believe the hype and that I’ll probably find the people there warm and friendly, I tried to take on board the advice but it is hard when the media seems so against them. He also told me that I was travelling far to fast through these regions and that I needed to slow down. The best I could come up with was that I had a tight budget, which is true.
That night there was an argument that lasted hours and it seemed to be in Spanish and English, either that my Spanish has come on leaps and bounds. It seems to friends had fallen out over a boy and decided that the best place to air the argument was in the hallway connecting all the dorms. I got told the next day that they had left quite early that morning.
The first thing I done that morning was go down to the train station and book my ticket to Iran, it cost about £40 and was to last 67hours. When I purchased my ticket two of the girls staying in the hostel, and one of there friend, said hi. We got talking and they asked me if I wanted to join them as they were going to the Asian side of Istanbul. When we got to the Asian side things seemed a little different but not that much, it wasn't till we tried to find somewhere to get food we found out very few people spoke English there. We luckily stumbled across a restaurant where the owners daughter spoke fairly good English so we used her interpret for us, which was easier said than done. Astrid and Bridgette were meeting someone on the European side for a Hamam later in the afternoon, so we all went across. Honda and I went to the male one and the girls went to the female one. This Hamam was a lot hotter than the previous one and after being washed by the Turkish equivalent of Big Daddy I had to go to the rest area as the Hamam was to hot for me. Myself and Honda waited for 90mins on the girls but gave up and headed back to our hostels. On this trip we saw the erotic shop of Istanbul, even though we both thought that sort of thing was forbidden.
The girls arrived back at the hostel and their excuse for being late was that there was a rather large lady in front of them waiting to be washed.
That night we all met into the downstairs part of the hostel. I was speaking to Guido when the rather annoying and loud Americans came over and took up all the space. As I was basically forced away from where I was sitting I went on the internet and checked m -mails. After leaving we got the tram, and headed up the slope to taxes. It was at this point I realised I didn't have my bag with me. I panicked and walked pretty fast back to the Hostel, I knew where I had left it, and it was next to Guido. When the Americans had come along and occupied the table my bag was suiting under one of the chairs. When I got back to the hostel, the guy working there asked why I was back so quickly, so I told him and he lectured me on it. Fortunately my bag was exactly where I left and all my belongings were there to, I learned an important lesson at that point. When I tried to catch up with the rest I thought the best way to do it would be to get the tram again. This time the tram only ran half the distance, so decided to walk. I caught up with the group they asked if I had got a taxi, as they couldn't believe how quickly I had got to the hostel and back, I told them that I just really needed a pint.
We headed to a Shisha bar where they don't sell alcohol, rather they let you smoke water pipes with a variety of different flavours along with drinking some tea, of course. After a couple of rounds of the Shisha a few of us were feeling quite light headed and we realised why they didn't give you any booze. We also started a competition to see who could blow smoke rings, we all failed miserably and blamed on the draught. We were the last people to leave, it was getting late so we headed back to the hostel for a beer, finally. The manager wasn't to happy but he allowed to us to have one.
The train wasn't due to leave till 2250 so that left nearly a whole day to waste. The day was spent with Astrid, Bridgette and Honda along with a couple of there friends, mainly drinking tea and relaxing. For dinner we headed down to the river and ate a fish sandwich. The fish is caught and prepared about 2metres away from where we were sitting. The boats where you bought the sandwich were rolling about in the waves quite a lot and we were amazed that the guys standing on the boats could keep the balance, it seemed nearly impossible. I also introduced them to a game of 'Catchphrase Bingo' which is based on all the sayings that the touts would use to start a conversation Within about 30metre they had used all the generic sayings.
It was 2010 when I was leaving the hostel, the manager told me I had only 20mins to get to the last ferry for the night with that I walked as fast as I could down to the ferry station , I made it with 2mins to go, I paid and jumped on the ferry. I took about 10 mins to get there. When I get to the station I used my time to count how many other fries came in, it must gave been about 10 more.